Friday, September 21, 2012

1989: Part Three

somewhere on the North Island, NZ

In the fall, I embarked on a great solo journey to the land Down Under, to both Australia and New Zealand, leaving my job as a bike messenger at Bucky's, which was one of the great things about working there. Since there were no benefits, I could pretty much come and go as I liked. My first stop was in Australia. I did a lot of walking, some hiking and some more hiking. There was one day that, due to my lack of transportation, I walked nearly 20 miles, on a combination of road and trail and I was exhausted when I returned to the hostel that night. My next stop was New Zealand, where I had hoped to do some hiking on the South island, but after a few days in the North island's city of Auckland, I noticed my right ankle had started to swell.

There was a medical clinic near the hostel I was staying at and they did some x-rays, yet found no fracture or break, but assumed it was some type of stress fracture, given all the walking I had been doing. They gave me a pair of crutches and suggested I have a bone scan when I returned to the US to make sure there was nothing wrong. Back at the hostel, someone suggested to me that I take a tour with what is New Zealand's equivalent to the Green Tortoise, a multi-day trip by bus to hikes and scenic areas with other fun people my age.
crutching on the steps of the Nat'l Museum

The bus was full of young people, mostly from Canada, Germany and a few from the US. During the day we toured around the north island, sometimes hiking or swimming and in the evening, we stayed at hostels or farms. I had sat out on many of the hikes due to the crutches but one particular day, when the description sounded too enticing, I decided to join in. The trail went through dark forest, a lush jungle and then to a beach where a ferry would be waiting. But the trail was very muddy and my crutches got sucked in deeply which made for very slow progress. When the guys with me, Bob from Chicago and Tomas from Berlin, realized we might be late for the ferry, they decided to take turns carrying me. Although I liked to do things on my own, without outside help, I had to admit that being carried by two men, both strong and handsome, was not such a bad thing.
Bob was a good sport

We made it to the beach to discover that although we had missed the ferry with the rest of our friends, the ferry captain made another run upon hearing that there was a woman on crutches making her way through the jungle. 

welcoming ceremony
That evening, we stayed with a Maori community and went through a ceremony of song and stories to be accepted into their home. Upon my suggestion, we sang, "A Hard Day's Night", though there were no Brits in our group. It was the first thing that had come to mind after the day and weeks that I had been having. Then, the tour leader made a very moving speech about.... me. It was about my determination and endurance (he forgot to say stubbornness) and he was honoring me in front of all those people. It was very moving and I doubt I will ever forget it. Immediately following that, I was the center of a massive pillow fight with my fellow tour-mates, plus the Maori kids, which helped to break up the serious tone.

I had gotten used to being on crutches, but something had developed that really bothered me. During the night, my foot went stone cold; it was so cold that it would wake me up when it brushed against my leg. I had experience with injuries and I knew that they usually became swollen and warm with an increase of blood flow. This new situation struck me with great concern and, although one part of me wanted to ignore it and continue my travels (I could write a book about it, I told myself), another part of me was truly worried. I called the airline to arrange my departure 3 weeks premature.

When I arrived home, I saw a doctor who referred me to more doctors. After seeing multiple doctors, having a bone scan (which turned up nothing), being given a speculative diagnosis (MS), I finally landed in the office of a vascular specialist at Swedish Hospital, Dr Roman Wong. While checking me out, he attempted to take my pulse at my right ankle and was unsuccessful. Although he wasn't sure what the precise problem was, he told me to come to the hospital the next morning for an arteriogram so they could get a better idea of what was going on. The quick action that they were taking was both a relief and a concern to me. I was relieved to have finally found someone who didn't just scratch his head and make guesses, but I was really concerned that there was something very seriously wrong with my foot and leg.

Since I was essentially homeless, having given up my house-share when I left for my trip, I was staying at a friend's apartment on 5th Ave in Belltown, where the Monorail passed right outside the window. To this day, whenever, I hear the sound of the monorail, I get an uneasy feeling.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Tale of Two Sisters

Hester Lake, at last
This is the tale of two sisters, Myrtle and Hester. Myrtle is straightforward, uncomplicated and simple, while Hester is perverse, obscure and complex. While both possess beauty, Myrtle is the type who would compete in a pageant, while Hester plays up the "wild child" and relishes in being dirty.

I first became acquainted with Myrtle on the 4th of July. She was just waking up from her winter slumber, yet still shining in all her glory beneath the broad shoulders of Big Snow Mountain. I found a soft, yet melted out parcel by her shore and swam in her waters, though briefly, since she was not yet fully warmed to the season.
meadow below Hester

This past week, I was acquainted with her unruly sister who hid from us behind heavily moistened huckleberry bushes, slippery roots and mangled creeks and rocky outcroppings. At times, she misled and confounded us, but we found her eventually, glimmering in the sunlight below Mt Price.
sign on Dingford Creek trail

Like any pair of sisters, she bore some resemblance to Myrtle, in that she enjoyed solitude and provided refreshment to those who sought her out.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cady Ridge Ramble

the lake is in the bowl, far left
Judging from all the "ooh"s, "aah"s and "ohh"s once we were up on Cady Ridge, it was either a spectacular hike, or something else entirely was going on. I wondered, with an internal smile, if this type of satisfaction were actually a forbidden activity on a Mountaineers hike. We strolled through meadows, picked out peaks in the distance and plucked many varieties of berries for a veritable smorgasbord of hiking trails.

Glacier Peak
We continued along the ridge to the PCT, where we headed south .3 miles to the bowl that holds Lake Sally Ann. There was a nice campspot there which we noted for the future and then filled water bottles and a couple of us took a refreshing dip.

Instead of making it into a loop with the Cady Creek or Meander Meadows trails, we headed back the way we came, figuring if it was good in one direction, why not do it twice, with the sun starting to drop on the horizon, providing some softer lighting.
on the PCT, at junction with Cady Ridge

It was a long day, but we made it the almost 14 miles in about 8 hours. One of the best hikes of the season!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

1989: Part Two

This is a continuation of the year, 1989 as I look back at events that have shaped me during the past 25 years in Seattle. To refresh your memory, the first part is here

A couple of days later, I returned to work, complete with neck-brace and ski pole (the first for protection, the second for balance). I had given notice a couple of weeks before to leave that job and go on to a more exciting line of work – as a bike messenger. My first attempt after the accident to ride a bicycle was not a confidence-builder, as I was not able to throw my leg over the top tube. I had difficulty lifting my right leg more than 45 degrees, but instead of taking that to mean there was something wrong with me, I just adapted and leaned the bike further down so I could get my leg over it and ride. 

My rider number at Bucky's was 114 and I quickly became known as Weezy114. I really got into the messenger thing, as it was a combination of skills that I had talent in: riding fast, mapping locations on-the-go and a little customer service. There was a freedom to it that I hadn't encountered while working in an office. Although I was tethered by a 2-way radio, I still had choices to make and the riding was fun and the people were real characters.

After being trained by someone with the nickname "Gonzo", my first accomplishment was to hit a pedestrian in the central part of downtown as I was running a stale yellow light and she had stepped off the curb without first looking. I was mostly unhurt, but the woman was taken away in an ambulance. I continued working and riding, loving my job and the adrenaline high it provided, especially when the dispatcher on the radio was asking me to do something that sounded physically impossible... and I don't mean like climbing Yesler Way, which was inevitable. Often, the end of the day meant defying traffic light patterns to get a rush package to its destination on time – before the bank or business closed for the day. But every so often, I would have an "episode", as I began to call them, where my right leg would start to hurt and, when I got off the bike to check it out, it was as if my knee had set on fire. When I tried to soothe it by touching it, there was an eruption of pain. After a few minutes it would go away and I would get on with my day. I never went to a doctor about this, although I still had medical benefits from my previous job.

Later that month, I entered the Seattle to Portland (STP) bicycle ride, a one or two-day event covering 200 miles from Seattle to Portland. Because I was a bicycle messenger, it was expected that I complete it in one day. I decided to at least give myself the option of a second day, but by the time I got to the last stop option for overnighting, I had become so road-weary and disgusted with the ride that I wanted to get it over with the same day. I had a friend come down to Portland and pick me up that evening and we drove high into the hills somewhere (all I remember is seeing road beneath the car) and I reclined the front seat and fell soundly asleep. In the morning, we wandered into a cafe in Troutdale and I ate a full stack of pancakes that, according to the server, was difficult for a logger to finish in one sitting.

Because I was a cyclist and a swimmer, my friends convinced me to enter a triathlon that had a 1/2 mile swim, 25-mile bike ride and 5K run. It seemed innocent enough, but soon I was hooked on training for each of the three disciplines and competing regularly, though I certainly was not considered "competitive" as far as my finishing times were concerned. I was a vegetarian in those days and wasn't very knowledgeable about it, so I just ate what I liked, without looking at protein consumption or essential vitamins and minerals – that would have taken way too much planning and attention. In addition to working as a messenger, I was also hired on as a kayak guide at the local outfitter for a part-time job in the evenings so I could get some guiding experience. Soon, my life fell into a cycle of riding my bike for work, kayaking for work,  and swimming and running to train for events. Competing in triathlons gave me a great high and as soon as I had finished one, I set my sights on the next. One weekend, I ran the Torchlight Seafair Parade 5K on Friday evening, went home and packed up, setting off for Victoria in the morning, using car, ferry and bicycle for transportation, then did a triathlon on Sunday, then reversed steps until I was home and getting ready for work as a messenger the next day.

In August, a couple of guys I had befriended in the climbing course asked me to join their team to summit Mt Rainier and I accepted, imagining myself reaching the proverbial pinnacle of my climbing dreams. Due to a number of circumstances (heavy pack, poor diet being just a couple) I was exhausted by the time I reached basecamp at Camp Muir, 10,000 feet, especially since that was my first time at such an altitude. The plan was to "sleep" in the hut and wake an 12:30 AM for the summit attempt. At some point during the night, I awoke when I felt something grab my foot. I was surprised and a little afraid, but since it didn't appear that I was in danger, I went back to sleep, fitful as it was. When 12:30 AM came around, my friends were quick to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that I had been snoring so loudly that it kept them and everyone else in the hut awake. One of them had grabbed my foot in an attempt to wake me, in hopes that I would change position and stop snoring. I knew that I sometimes snored, but I had a feeling that it had more to do with my state of exhaustion and possible dehydration, than simply just blocked nasal passages. I made the first of two smart decisions that year... I would sit out the summit attempt.